MANILA, OCTOBER 29, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Christina Mendez - A government proposal to cancel the passports of senators implicated in the pork barrel scam will be put to a test as Sen. Jinggoy Estrada announced he would leave this week for the United States.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is still studying a request from the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the cancellation of the passports, in anticipation of plunder charges to be filed by the Office of the Ombudsman with the Sandiganbayan against Estrada, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

With the case filed in court, warrants of arrest are expected to be issued. A plunder charge normally does not allow bail.

Estrada said he needed to go to the US to seek a second opinion for the medical condition of his wife, Precy, who was recently diagnosed with a lump and cysts in her breast.

He assured the public that he would not evade any charges filed against him in connection with the alleged misuse of the congressional pork barrel.

“I was born here, I was raised here and I will die here,” Estrada said in Filipino, echoing a statement of his father, former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, when plunder charges were filed against them in 2001.

The elder Estrada was detained without bail for six years and was convicted but immediately pardoned by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Jinggoy Estrada, detained for a shorter period, was acquitted.

Yesterday, Senator Estrada expressed hope that the wheels of justice would turn faster to end what he described as a personal ordeal.

“I hope this ends,” he said as he expressed hope for a quick acquittal. “I am confident that I did not misuse the funds of the government.”

Asked if he would file counter-charges against certain individuals implicated in the scam, Estrada said he would consult his lawyers.

“The heads of the implementing agencies should be held accountable,” the senator said.

Certain quarters have slammed the DOJ request, pointing out the absence of arrest warrants for the senators.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, however, said the request could be justified.

She also said the government could invoke the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which went into effect in December 2005, to run after any individual accused of plunder who will try to evade justice by leaving the Philippines.

A special audit report prepared by the Commission on Audit (COA) covering 2007 to 2009 implicated nearly 200 lawmakers in alleged anomalous disbursements from the pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) using bogus non-government organizations.

Another COA report, covering President Aquino’s administration, implicated more senators who allegedly funneled the pork barrel through local government units.

Local government executives have also been implicated in the pork barrel scam allegedly operated by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

‘Prosecution by press release’

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima was criticized yesterday for resorting to “prosecution by press release” against perceived critics and political opponents of the administration.

Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, leader of the independent bloc in the House of Representatives, said De Lima has been repeatedly telegraphing her moves in filing cases against these people, including lawmakers accused in the pork barrel scam and the alleged misuse of the Malampaya funds to whip up public opinion against them.

“She (De Lima) should focus on filing the cases rather than coming out with premature statements because she’s distracting the public,” he said. “It’s like prosecution by press release.”

Speaking to reporters, Romualdez said House members are already getting irritated with De Lima with her repeated announcements that more lawmakers would be charged before the Office of the Ombudsman in the coming weeks.

“If the (justice) secretary continues to preempt the court processes, I think an investigation should be in order,” he said.

“It is coming to the point that legislators are being vilified unfairly and the executive branch is becoming too powerful already.”

Romualdez said De Lima’s request to the Department of Foreign Affairs to cancel the passports of Enrile and 30 others was premature.

De Lima was rushing things because it should be the Sandiganbayan that should ask for the cancellation of passports, he added.

Romualdez doubts that Enrile, and Senators Revilla, Estrada and other prominent political figures would leave the country as they would not want to be seen as trying to evade prosecution.

Romualdez said it was also ridiculous for De Lima to seek the cancellation of passport of former president Arroyo, now a Pampanga congresswoman, who is already detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.

“I hate to say this but they’re beating a dead horse,” he said. “She’s not even allowed to go to church, so Masses are held in her suite. Her movements are extremely limited and I’m sure with the advent of technology, they are monitoring her within her hospital suite. But if they want to do that, if they want to show the world that they beat a dead horse, that’s OK.

“If there are anomalies that are alleged, let there be investigations and charges be filed. If the charges were proven, whoever they are should suffer the penalties of the crime committed, but beyond that we should also learn to move forward. We cannot keep on blaming the failures of the President on the past administration.” - Paolo Romero


Pork Barrel President By Manila Standard Today | Posted 22 hours ago | 1,832 views 57 2013_oct28_editorial

PRACTICE makes perfect is an adage President Aquino knows well.

In his case, years of prevaricating and telling outright lies paid off handsomely last week when he managed to sound almost reasonable in defending his ultimately indefensible Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) before the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippine (FOCAP).

The DAP, created in 2011, was the vehicle by which the President took money already allocated by Congress to various government agencies, waved a magic wand over them to turn the funds into “savings,” and used them as he saw fit.

This included more than P1 billion in extra allocations of pork to lawmakers who signed the impeachment complaint against his political enemy, then Chief Justice Renato Corona, and about P1 billion more to senators who voted to convict the hapless magistrate a year later.

But Mr. Aquino did not mention this to his audience of foreign correspondents. Instead, he chose to trumpet the economy’s growth in 2012 and credited his secret stimulus package for the gains in gross domestic product.

Nor did the President mention that the growth in GDP under his watch has been accompanied by an increase in unemployment—and in some instances, an actual decline in jobs.

But Mr. Aquino is adept at selective disclosure, and prattled on instead about our world competitiveness ranking and investment grade status, as if any of this meant anything to the growing ranks of the jobless, or of the hapless wage earners who watched helplessly as the gap between them and the President’s wealthy patrons grew ever wider.

Mr. Aquino then went on to say that he was puzzled that two years after he announced the DAP, it was being “unjustly and oddly vilified in the media” and finally concludes that it is his political enemies—those whom he has filed plunder charges against—who were behind the criticism.

Again, the President is less than forthright, neglecting to say that the most convincing criticism of the DAP comes, not from politicians, but by constitutional and legal experts who point out that the program violates the principles enshrined in our Constitution.

He also neglected to say that the DAP funds came, not from true savings, but from “slow-moving” projects that had neither been completed nor canceled, or that this arbitrary “cost-cutting” had given the President a P137 billion war chest, P12 billion of which would find its way to favored congressmen and senators.

In the wake of the growing public outrage over the misuse of pork barrel, the President, who had vociferously defended the discretionary funds before, reversed himself publicly in August and declared that he was abolishing the Priority Development Assistance Fund. But people quickly saw through his public relations act, and were doubly incensed by his refusal to give up his own discretionary funds, which ran into hundreds of billions of pesos.

His argument at the time was that his funds were spent properly—then admitted in a moment of candor that some DAP funds allocated to lawmakers had been misused, even though those funds had been channeled to government agencies.

Now we find that most of the President’s allies in the Senate do not want to give up their pork either, contrary to the wishes of the public and the pronouncements of Mr. Aquino’s close associate, Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Mr. Aquino bristles at being called the Pork Barrel King, and perhaps he is right. We are, after all, not yet a monarchy, despite Mr. Aquino’s best efforts to control and manipulate the other two co-equal branches of government.

But one thing is becoming increasingly difficult to deny, even if Mr. Aquino is not yet a king. He has certainly proved beyond all doubt that he is the Pork Barrel President.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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